Hanami. A tradition of flower viewing held long and dear by the Japanese people. In this case, for cherry blossom trees. Cherry blossoms (or sakura, to use their Japanese name), are a beautiful pink flower that bloom in Spring for several weeks, before departing for an entire year, leaving lush foliage in their place. A perfect sentiment to the fleeting nature of life.
A bee enjoying the sakura.
Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost, and therefore hottest, prefecture, and is usually the first to enjoy hanami season. Blooms start to appear in the North of the island, spreading throughout central and southern Okinawa in the following weeks. The first can usually be spotted around the end of January, with peak season being mid-February. This year, the last weekend in January played host to several hanami festivals. I made it to two; Motobu and Nakijinjo. Here’s how it went.
My sakura buddies and I!
Motobu sakura festival.
The first festival I attended was at Sakura no Mori park in Motobu. To get to it, you have to drive up Mount Yaedake, which is also lined with sakura trees. The drive up is slow and winding, made all the more pleasant by the smattering of pink you can often see. This year was no disappointment in that respect; most of the trees were almost fully bloomed. After navigating the parking, it’s time to get out and soak up the sakura. And the rain. Fuck. I did at least bring one umbrella (that broke) and some snazzy rain coats (that look like hazmat suits), so I didn’t end up getting too wet (I must have at least three other umbrellas in my house, but could I find the fuckers?). Luckily the rain didn’t last long, so it was back to taking photos of every sakura tree with blossoms on it, and sampling the food. Sadly the trees weren’t as full as the previous year, but there were still quite a few, so it was worth the long drive. As far as food goes, the custard filled chocolate waffles were pretty damn good. I perused a little more, shook off my hazmat suit, took way too many photos of basically the same thing, then hopped back into the car for the short trip back down Mount Yaedake to Nakijinjo festival.
One of my favourite trees at Motobu has a deep pink hue to its flowers.
Nakijinjo sakura festival.
Nakijinjo is a castle ruins, and is magnificent on its own. With the sakura trees, it is enhanced. Navigating another parking clusterfuck, it’s only a short hike up the hill to the ruins. Prior to entry, you must purchase a ticket. This can be found in the little pavilion opposite the entry to the castle. It’s 400 yen per adult. After buying tickets, we actually had a look round the little shops here. One in particular caught my eye; she had some beautiful artwork on her wall. For 5,000 yen, I purchased a painting of Nakijinjo swathed in cherry blossoms. What I really loved about it though, was the hidden details; the artist had hidden some native birds throughout the picture! After this, and a purchase of flip flops to relieve my sore feet (I stupidly didn’t wear socks with my shoes), it was off to the castle. The best place to see the most sakura here is through the main gate, and up the flight of stairs. The stairway is lined on both sides with trees, and at full bloom the effect is breathtaking. Sadly, this year they weren’t quite at full bloom, so the effect was somewhat watered down. Nonetheless, the weather had remained nice, there was the odd tree with all its blossoms out, and Nakijinjo has an incredible view across the bay, so not all was lost. I set out with my husband and two of our friends, neither of which had been to a hanami festival, meaning it was still a fun day. We sat on the grass a while, taking in the view, taking the piss out of one another, and generally just enjoying Nakijinjo. After one more stroll round, we headed back to the car park, took a different route home, and still endured a shit ton of traffic. Oh well.
The steps of Nakijinjo and its scant sakura offerings.
There are still a few more festivals lined up, and the sakura trees (at time of writing) haven’t yet bloomed further down the island, leaving plenty of time for me to enjoy them for a little bit longer.
A paler sakura variety at Nakijinjo.